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Guardian: Xan Brooks on the competition for the Palme d’Or at this year’s festival

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Courtesy: The Guardian

XAN BROOKS: The photographers are ready. The red carpet is laid. And look: there are some movie stars already treading upon it. We’re at the 61st International Cannes Film Festival with jury president Sean Penn. Fun and frivolity are thin on the ground this year. The festival opens with Blindness, an apocalyptic fable from the Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles.

[CLIP FROM BLINDNESS]

FERNANDO MEIRELLES, DIRECTOR, "BLINDNESS": You can see it through, like, a psychological point of view, and just try to see how us human, how we’re very primitive. We’re like animals. I mean, we play civilized, we play sophisticated people because we have food, we have everything very well established. But if we lose this, then it reveals what we really are.

BROOKS: Other downbeat highlights competing for this year’s Palme d’Or include Gomorrah, a harrowing portrait of the Neopolitan mafia that has already forced its writer into hiding.

[CLIP FROM GOMORRAH]

BROOKS: Hollywood veteran Clint Eastwood scores big with The Exchange, a 1920’s-set adoption thriller starring Angelina Jolie.

ANGELINA JOLIE, ACTRESS, "THE EXCHANGE": Certainly, so much of it is being a mother and imagining, if this was happening to me, my pain and frustration. But I did have to find something else, because, as I said, I couldn’t respond the way, of course, I would respond today. I lost my mother a few months before the film, and to me she’s very much like my mother. My mother was very passive in many ways and very, very sweet, but when it came to her children, she was a lion. But as a woman, very shy, almost, with her own voice.

BROOKS: The Dardenne brothers have won here twice before. They’re going for an unprecedented Cannes hat trick with Lorna Silence.

[CLIP FROM LE SILENCE DO LORNA]

In the meantime, British hopes rest mainly on Hunger, which plays in the Un Certain Regard section. Made by the artist Steve McQueen, it’s a stark, poetic account of the Maze Prison hunger strikers.

[CLIP FROM HUNGER]

MICHAEL FASSBENDER, ACTOR, "HUNGER": It was a turning point in the struggle. It was massive, you know, that these ten men died. You know. But it did change things after that.

STEVE MCQUEEN, DIRECTOR, "HUNGER": We did a lot of research. Former prisoners at the time, four people who were actually on hunger strike, prison officers, priests, a whole range of people who were involved in that time. And myself and Linda Walsh, the cowriter with me, went to Northern Ireland, and we had a week of interviews. And it was so heavy that when we came back [inaudible] for about, you know, three weeks. It was very, very intense.

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